JERUSALEM | Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav was convicted Thursday of raping an employee when he was a Cabinet minister, the most serious criminal charges ever brought against a high-ranking official in Israel and a case that shocked the nation.
Katsav, 65, faces four to 16 years in prison for the crimes, which include two counts of raping an employee in 1998 when he was tourism minister and lesser counts of indecent acts and sexual harassment involving two other women who worked for him when he held the largely ceremonial office of president from 2000 to 2007.
It was a stunning fall from grace for a man who rose from poverty to the highest levels of power. He became a model of success for Sephardic Jews — those of Middle Eastern origin — who for decades were an ethnic underclass in society.
Katsav has denied the rape charges, claiming he was a victim of a political witch hunt and suggesting he was targeted because he is Sephardic. Katsav was born in Iran and immigrated to Israel as a child.
A somber Katsav left the courtroom without commenting, surrounded by his legal team. He was ordered to surrender his passport while awaiting sentencing at a date that has not yet been set.
One of Katsav's attorneys, Avigdor Feldman, said he hopes his client will appeal, but he has not yet decided how to proceed.
Katsav can appeal the verdict, but legal experts said Israel's Supreme Court is unlikely to overturn it. A presidential pardon is also highly unlikely because of the severity of the offenses. In his ruling, the judge said Katsav's defense was full of lies.
Katsav's case broke in 2006, when the then-president complained that a female employee was extorting him. The woman then went to police with her side of the story, detailing a series of sexual assaults and prompting other women to come forward with similar complaints.
According to the indictment, Katsav forced one woman to the floor of his office at the Tourism Ministry in 1998 and raped her. A second time that year, he summoned her to a Jerusalem hotel to go over paperwork and raped her on the bed in his room.
The indictment also alleged that he harassed two women during his term as president, embracing them against their will and making unwanted sexual comments.
The conviction was the latest in a series of high-profile cases against Israeli officials.
Former Israeli Finance Minister Avraham Hirschson is in prison after being convicted of embezzling more than $600,000 from a workers union. Former Justice Minister Haim Ramon was convicted in March 2007 of forcibly kissing a female soldier. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is standing trial on corruption charges.